Our 32-year-old daughter recently separated from her husband and asked if she and her two young children could come live back at home while she pulls her life together. We were prepared to help her take care of the kids and with some of her expenses. What has caught us by surprise is our daughter’s expectation that we will go along with her decisions, many of which we don’t agree with, such as which school she wants to send the kids to. We don’t want to make a rough time harder, but don’t you agree that if we are supporting our adult daughter financially and emotionally in our own home, we deserve to have some say in how things are done?
Adult children moving back with their parents has become much more common in today’s difficult economic climate. The added factor of young couples splitting up further accounts for adults in their 20s and 30s returning home, often with young children in tow. Such arrangements, which can last from weeks to months and even longer, require clear discussion about ground rules and active communication throughout. No matter how old parents and adult children are, we all have a natural tendency to regress in the constellation of our family of origin. For sure, moving back home activates old family dynamics and is a set up for tension on both sides.
I assume that while your daughter appreciates your generosity, she struggles with feelings of failure about her life situation and anxiety as to her dependence on you. Similarly, while you and your husband care deeply about her and your grandchildren, their presence disrupts the rhythm of your current lifestyle. This is a new relationship phase for all of you and needs to be negotiated thoughtfully. It is important for you to respect her privacy and to discuss basic guidelines regarding life in your home. These might include everything from rotating responsibility for laundry and meal preparation to contact with your son-in-law. Similarly, if you are providing her with financial backing, you deserve to participate in major decisions that you are being asked to pay for, such as which school your grandchildren attend. Ongoing communication between you, your husband, your daughter and the children is key to this arrangement working for all.
I chair the financial aid committee of our local Jewish day school and am very aware of the difficulty many families have meeting tuition payments. Currently we have two families, each with three school-age children, requesting assistance. The Brown family has a higher net income; both parents work full time and employ a part-time nanny. They still struggle to make ends meet. By contrast, the White family has a substantially lower net income as the mother decided to leave her job to stay home full-time. If we were to allocate financial aid simply on the basis of tax returns, the Whites would get more assistance. But is it fair to penalize or reward lifestyle decisions when it comes to giving out scholarship funds?
Determining financial aid is a daunting job that requires Solomonic wisdom. In order to make fair judgments it may be necessary to gather detailed and personal information about individual cases. This can feel like an invasion of privacy for applicants and information overload for committee members, who may be members of the same community and even have children in the same grade. On the one hand, applicants for financial aid might resent questions that deserve to appear on forms such as “Where does your family vacation?” or “How does your family spend Passover?” On the other hand, if grandparents regularly underwrite a family Passover trip to Florida, would it not be reasonable for the applicant family to stay home and ask the grandparents to help out with school tuition instead?
In the situation you describe, you ask whether it is fair that the school financially underwrite a particular value, in this case, the Whites’ personal choice for Mrs. White to stay home. Other family values might include having a large number of children or parents choosing careers that don’t pay well. Financial aid committees can’t judge values, they can only evaluate the circumstances of individual situations. One outcome in your case might be to give the Whites a larger financial aid package with the expectation that either Mr. or Mrs. White provide some kind of regular service for the school.
Dr. Michelle Friedman, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and the director of pastoral counseling at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, invites Jewish Week readers to send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Issues related to psychology, psychiatry and the interface of mental health and general culture, are welcome.